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Part I: The Preparation of the Earth
THROUGHOUT THE whole process of the
preparation of the earth for man, there seem to have been not
merely periods of great creative activity but also periods of
great destruction. And these periods of destruction seem to have
been related in some way to the times of creative activity, not
causally but as a kind of prelude or clearing-of-the-decks. Perhaps
Agassiz was a little extreme in his view that there were innumerable
such clearings-of-the-decks, believing as he did that there were
at least hundreds of these catastrophes, wiping out every plant
and animal over vast areas of the earth's surface, but he was
by no means alone in recognizing the profound effect such would
have upon the earth's ecology.
the other major interruptions in geological history, they seem
to mark real boundaries between the eras, the largest divisions
of geological time. Normal D. Newell of the American Museum of
Natural History in New York has put it this way: (153)
paleontological changes at these stratigraphic levels are real,
approximately synchronous, and recognizable at many places in
different parts of the earth where fossiliferous rocks of approximately
similar age are represented and have been carefully examined.
These are seemingly global events,
which "are characterized by the abrupt dropping out of all
the species, most of the genera, and many of the higher categories
(superfamilies, orders, and classes) characteristic of the times."
When the earth settled down again, we seem almost to be in a
new world. Otto H. Schindewolf of Tubingen, who has been particularly
concerned with this problem, noted that in the recovery period
the new categories of life that suddenly appear without antecedents
often seem to be representative of types in the later, more completely
occupied world. It looks as though God was
153. Newell, Norman D., "Catastrophism
and the Fossil Record," Evolution, vol.10, no.1,
1 of 15
introducing the archtypes that were to mark the new order, giving
them the wide potentials for later diversification that my thesis
notes such abrupt changes of scene, especially at the end of
Permian, at the close of the Mesozoic, and just before the present
order of life was introduced. He pointed out that "geologists
have long supposed that rates of evolution and extinction are
in some manner influenced by the ecological changes induced by
orogeny (i.e., mountain-building)." But he added: (154)
years it has become increasingly evident that orogenic disturbances
and associated ecological changes are actually rather restricted
in extent and therefore of minor evolutionary importance. . .
. Evolutionary episodes as revealed in the record of fossils
apparently do not coincide closely with times of mountain building.
When the age of the great cold-blooded
reptiles passed away and warm-blooded animals appeared on the
earth in their place, there actually was one such abrupt discontinuity
between the old and the new worlds on a global scale. Henry F.
Osborn observed: (155)
dramatic and in many respects the most puzzling event in the
history of life on the earth, is the change which exterminated
this vast array of creatures. These reptiles were in the climax
of specialization and grandeur. . . . We have no conception as
to what world-wide cause occurred. . . . We can only observe
that the world-wide effect was the same: the giant reptiles both
of sea and land disappeared.
Some of the proposed explanations could
apply readily enough to the land animals, as for example the
diminishing food supply in the form of plant life. But this does
not help very much with respect to those animals which lived
in the sea. Whatever the cause, it was one which operated equally
on land and sea, and it was surprisingly sudden. George Gamow
has put it: (156)
of giant reptiles with its innumerable representatives on the
land, in the sea, and in the air, was certainly the most powerful
and extensive animal kingdom during the entire existence of life
on the earth, but it had also a most tragic and unexpected end.
During a comparatively short period towards the end of the Mesozoic
Era the Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, Ichthyosaurus, Plesiosaurus,
and all the other "sauri" disappeared from the surface
of the earth as if wiped away by some giant storm. . . . The
causes that led to such a sudden extinction of the most powerful
animals that ever existed on the surface of our planet have remained
155. Osborn, Henry F., The Age of Mammals in Europe, Asia
and North America, Macmillan, New York, 1910, p.98.
156. Gamow, George, Biography of the Earth, Mentor Books,
New York, 1948, p.173.
Not only do we have the evidence, of a negative kind,
that such creatures suddenly vanished from the scene, but we
have a more positive evidence in the existence of so-called animal
cemeteries which are considerably later. These take the form
of very extensive beds in which millions of bones of a very wide
variety of species of animals are found indiscriminately mixed
together. In these cemeteries there are the remains of herbivorous
as well as carnivorous animals and the bones of the former apparently
show no signs of having been gnawed. This is a proof that both
types of animals perished together. Furthermore, there is little
evidence of weathering, a fact which is taken to mean that they
were buried almost as quickly as they were destroyed -- perhaps
by the very agency which destroyed them. And finally the bones
are forcibly intermixed; that is to say, the leg bone of one
species may be found rammed tightly into the eye socket of the
skull of another species, a circumstance which suggests that
these creatures were overwhelmed, not merely suddenly, but violently.
Such cemeteries have to be seen to be believed. No simple explanation
such as that the bones of centuries of dead creatures merely
accumulated by being washed into a depression, or that they represent
the after-dinner remains of generations of some particular local
predatory species (such as hyenas for example) will suffice.
These bones have not been exposed to the sun or the air for any
length of time prior to burial, nor are they gnawed.
leaned heavily on the work of Schindewolf (the importance of
whose work, incidentally, has been recognized by G. G. Simpson)
and emphasized the reality of these discontinuities and the widespread
nature of them. And he admitted frankly that they seem (at least
in some cases) to be caused by quite exceptional circumstances,
circumstances not commonly observed at other periods of geological
history or often affecting aquatic life as dramatically as terrestrial
life. So exceptional are the circumstances, in fact, that according
to Newell: (157)
believes the best way to explain many of the innumerable small
as well as the few large discontinuities in the fossil record.
. . is by means of catastrophic extinctions and simultaneous
creation of new faunas.
Of course, this kind of explanation
is unacceptable to the great majority of recognized authorities
on matters geological. Ernst Mayr felt that the explanation is
really quite simple. (158) He said, "Ultimately their extinction
is due to an inability of their genotype to
157. Newell, Norman D.,"Catastrophism and the Fossil Record," Evolution,
vol.10, no.1, 1956, p.100.
158. Mayr, Ernst, Animal Species and Evolution, Belknap
Press of Harvard University Press, 1963, p.620.
respond to new selective
pressures," an explanation which sounds impressive but merely
pushes the problem one step further back to the prior question,
Why this inability? There might also be many equally simple answers
to this question in terms of current genetic theory, but the
problem still remains as to why such an inability to respond
should suddenly arise in hundreds of thousands of animals of
different categories and all in the same geological time frame.
It is not at all a comparable situation to the somewhat limited
but none the less sad extinction of species which seem to be
associated with the propensities for overkill by early man in
his hunting forays, (159) or by the buffalo hunters of recent memory. These
humanly induced extinctions had only a small effect on the total
ecology, comparatively speaking, for they concern only a small
number of species.
Perhaps the most striking extinction
of all that is still essentially unexplained is the one which
seems to have immediately preceded the appearance of true man
and which is in some way linked to the coming of the Ice Age.
It is difficult to discuss this particularly disastrous event
without appearing to be over-dramatic, and those who constitutionally
find any kind of catastrophism distasteful try hard to play down
the quite extraordinary character of the fossil record from which
we must reconstruct the event. This catastrophe was sudden in
the extreme. It was violent. It seems to have been very widespread.
It was accompanied by a fundamental change in climatic conditions
in many parts of the world. It wiped out enormous numbers of
animals of all kinds -- large and small, land and aquatic. And
it literally marked the end of a whole world order. Look at some
of the facts of the case as set forth by various authorities
since the early years of the last century.
In 1821, Benjamin Silliman of the
Department of Geology at Yale University, wrote of the large
number of species which were apparently overwhelmed in this single
catastrophe. He pointed out that whales, sharks, crocodiles,
mammoths, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippos, tigers, deer, horses,
various species of the bovine family, and a multitude of others
were found in strata "in most instances indicating that
they were buried by the same catastrophe which destroyed them
A contemporary of Silliman's, Granville Penn, wrote: (161)
the concept of overkill, see: Pleistocene Extinctions,
edited by P. S. Martin and H.E.Wright, Jr., vol.4., Proceedings
of 7th Congress of the International Association for Quaternary
Research; especially Martin's own paper, "Prehistoric Over-Kill,"
Yale University Press, 1967, pp.75-120.
160. Silliman, Benjamin, in American Journal of Science, vol.3,
1821, p.47f.; vol.8, 1827, p.130f.
161. Penn, Granville, A Comparative Estimate of thc Mineral
and Mosaical Geologies, vol.2, 2nd ediyion, London, 1825,
The great problem for geological theories to explain
is that amazing phenomenon, the mingling of the remains of animals
of different species and climates, discovered in exhaustless
quantities in the interior parts of the earth so that the exuviae
of those genera which no longer exist at all, are found confusedly
mixed together in the soils of the most northerly latitudes.
. . . The bones of those animals which can live only in the torrid
zone are buried in the frozen soil of the polar regions.
to quote one more contemporary, George Fairholme, who described
similar evidence in Italy from the Arno River Valley: (162)
sandy matrix bones were found at every depth from that of a few
feet to a hundred feet or more. From the large and more apparent
bones of the elephant, the rhinoceros, the megatherium, the elk,
the buffalo, the stag, and so forth, naturalists were led by
the elaborate studies of Cuvier and other comparative anatomists
to the remains of the now living bear, tiger, wolf, hyena, rabbit,
and finally the more minute remains even of the water rat and
the mouse. In some places so complete was the confusion . . .
that the bones of many different elephants were brought into
contact, and on some of them even oyster shells were matted.
Both Darwin and Wallace were impressed
by the evidence of mass destruction just before man appeared.
In his Journal of Researches, the former wrote of his
wonder at the picture presented by the fossil record in South
America, which he visited on the voyage of the Beagle in
is at first irresistibly hurried into the belief that some great
catastrophe has occurred. Thus, to destroy animals both large
and small in South Patagonia, in Brazil, in the Cordillera, in
North America up to the Behring Straits, we must shake the entire
framework of the globe. Certainly no fact in the long history
of the world is so startling as the wide extermination of its
His contemporary, Alfred R. Wallace,
in 1876 wrote in a similar vein: (164)
in a zoologically impoverished world, from which all the hugest
and fiercest, and strangest forms have recently disappeared.
. . . Yet it is surely a marvelous fact, and one that has hardly
been sufficiently dwelt upon this sudden dying out of so many
large mammalia not in one place only but over half the land surface
of the globe. . . .
have been some physical cause for this great change, and it must
have been a cause capable of acting almost simultaneously over
large portions of the earth's surface.
162. Fairholme, George, New
and Conclusive Physical Demonstrations of the Fact and Period
of the Mosaic Deluge, no publisher, 1837.
163. Darwin, Charles, Journal of Researches, Ward Lock,
New York. 1845, p.178.
164. Wallace, Alfred Russell, Geographical Distribution of
Animals, vol.1, Hafner, New York, 1876, pp.150, 151.
One of the most thorough students of this last great
catastrophe was Sir Henry Howorth whose works are now virtually
unobtainable. Although his interpretation of the evidence was,
and still is, rejected by geologists committed to Lyell's principle
of uniformity, he nevertheless put on record a tremendous amount
of data, much of it gathered at firsthand, which is not nearly
as well known as it should be. In one of his major works, The
Mammoth and the Flood, he collected data regarding the innumerable
known cases of mammoths frozen in northern latitudes, particularly
in Siberia. (165) And yet in spite of this information,
which is always very well documented, a comparatively recent
paper by William R. Farrand entitled, "Frozen Mammoths and
Modern Geology," spoke of only some 39 known frozen carcasses,
of which only four are by any means complete; and it never once
mentions the books and papers published by Sir Henry Howorth.
(166) To Dr. Farrand, there is no real evidence of catastrophe
in spite of the extraordinary circumstances under which these
giant creatures evidently died. Howorth, however, gives many
details which it is quite impossible, I believe, to account for
in any other way than by assuming a very sudden catastrophe followed
almost immediately by intense cold. It was encouraging
to see that a correspondent countered Farrand's statements very
effectively: (167) but Farrand replied with considerable
sarcasm, clearly being on the defensive.
1887 Howorth wrote: (168)
first place, it is almost certain in my opinion that a very great
cataclysm or catastrophe occurred . . . by which the mammoth
with his companions was overwhelmed over a very large part of
the earth's surface. This catastrophe, secondly, involved a widespread
flood of waters which not only killed the animals but also buried
them under continuous beds of loam or gravel. Thirdly, that the
same catastrophe was accompanied by a very sudden change of climate
in Siberia, by which the animals that had previously lived in
fairly temperate conditions were frozen in their flesh under
the ground and have remained there ever since.
facts are stated, they are of such a nature as to be almost incredible
and they are drawn from the works of such men as Wrangell, Strahlenberg,
Witzen, Muller, Klaproth, Avril, Erman, Hedenstrom, Betuschef,
Bregne, Gemlin, Brandt, Antermony, Liachof, Kusholof, Chamisso,
Maljuschkin, Ides, Baer, Schmidt, Bell, Tatishof, Middendorf,
165. Howorth, Sir Henry, Thc
Mammoth and thc Flood: Uniformity and Geology, London, 1887.
166. Farrand, William R., "Frozen Mammoths and Modern Geology,"
Science, vol.133, 1961, p.729-735.
167. Lippman, Harold E., Letter to the Editor, under the heading
"Frozen Mammoths," Science, vol.137, 1962, p.449ff.
168. Howorth, Sir Henry, Thc Mammoth and thc Flood: Uniformity
and Geology, London, p.47.
von Schrenck, Olders,
Laptef, Sarytschef, Motschulsky, Schtscukin, Maydell, besides
the official documents of the Russian Government.
One of the rivers of Siberia that
empties into the Arctic is the Yenessei. Concerning the buried
animals revealed in the strata along the sides of this river,
Howorth remarked: (169)
reports that the mammoth bones which fall out of the cliffs are
so numerous that on decomposing they form a substance called
"osteocolli" or "bone glue." The next great
river eastward towards Alaska, emptying into the Arctic, is the
Lena. It is a vast stream which consists of twists and turns,
making a course of over 2000 miles. The natives who live in the
regions of the Lena river make a living travelling up and down
the river in boats, gathering up the ivory tusks that they see
sticking out of cliffs along the river banks and which they find
fallen to the edge of the water.
The number of animals that are buried
in Siberia must be stupendous. Some conception can be obtained
from the fact that since A.D. 900 men have made it a business
to collect the ivory of the region and sell it in China, Arabia,
and Europe. In one case where a record was secured, Lyddeker
stated that in a period of twenty years tusks from at least 20,000
animals were taken from the Siberian mines to markets in Europe
during the nineteenth century. (170) Howorth reported what has since been
confirmed many times, that the contents of the stomachs of many
of these giants had been examined carefully and been shown to
contain undigested food, composed of leaves of trees now found
in southern Siberia. (171) Microscopic examination of the skins
of some of these animals has since revealed red blood corpuscles.
This is thought to be proof, not only of sudden death, but death
due to suffocation either by gas or water. (172) One particular
animal with an undigested meal still in its stomach had been
eating buttercups, sedges, grasses, the beans of wild oxytropis,
and young shoots of fir and pine. In l901 an expedition to Kolomysk
was made by some Russian scientists to convey to St. Petersburg
a particularly fine specimen with hair, skin, and flesh perfectly
preserved � which also had the remains of undigested food
in its stomach. (173)
169. Ibid., p.54.
170. Lydekker, Richard, Annual Report, Smithsonian Institute,
171. Undigested food: cf. Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology,
vol .I, p.183, quoting a letter to Humboldt from Prof. Brandt
of St. Petersburg; also Scientific American, August, 1901,
for a similar observation; and Scientific American, September,
172. Death by suffocation: first remarked upon by Prof. Brandt
in 1846 in the Proceedings of the Berlin Academy, p.223.
173. Brandt: quoted by Howorth, Thc Mammoth and thc Flood:
Uniformity and Geology, London, , p.61.
Imperial Mammoth (Elephas imperator) of Nebraska and Texas,
after a painting by C. R. Knight in the American Museum of Natural
History, New York City. This is typical of specimens such as
the various Siberian finds mentioned in the text. Photo used
courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History.
Perhaps no one single discovery can
ever quite convey so strong an impression of the suddenness and
immensity of the catastrophe as one reported first by Brandt,
(174) and subsequently accredited by others, in which three
mammoth mummies were found standing erect and facing north.
A similar discovery was made by Fisher of a single specimen in
the same extraordinary attitude of arrested flight.
have mentioned the existence of rhinoceroses in a similar condition.
In a letter to Baron Humboldt from the same Professor Brandt
(of St. Petersburg), particulars are given of a rhinoceros obtained
by Pallas in 1772 from Wiljiusky (latitude 64º), from the
banks of the Wiljiu, a tributary of the Lena. Brandt wrote concerning
174. Brandt, in Lyell's Principles
of Geology, vol.I, p.183.
have been so fortunate as to extract from cavities in the molar
teeth of the Wiljiu rhinoceros a small quantity of its half-chewed
food, among which fragments of pine leaves, one half of the seed
of a polygonacious plant, and very minute portions of wood with
porous cells or small fragments of coniferous wood were still
recognizable. It was also remarkable on a close examination of
the head, that the blood vessels discovered in the interior of
the mass appeared to be filled, even to the capillary vessels,
with a brown mass (coagulated blood), which in many places still
showed the red colour of blood.
Before considering similar animal
cemeteries in other parts of the world, it might be well to point
out that it is not a normal occurrence to find dead animals anywhere
� except on our highways! For example, Baron Nordenskiold
first place I must call attention to the extreme rarity of the
occurrence of the remains of animals which have recently died.
. . .
nine expeditions in the Arctic regions, where animal life during
summer is exceedingly abundant, I can recall very few occasions
upon which I have found remains of vertebrate animals which could
be proved to have died a natural death. Near hunting grounds
there are to be seen, often enough, the remains of reindeer,
seals, foxes, or bears that have died from gunshot wounds, but
no naturally dead polar bear, seals, walrus, white whale, fox,
goose, auk, lemming or other vertebrates. The polar bear and
the reindeer are found there in hundreds: the seal, walrus, and
white whale in thousands: and birds in millions. These animals
must die a natural death in untold numbers. What becomes of their
bodies? Of this we have for the present no idea. . . .
The only conclusion that one can draw
from this is that the death of these hundreds of thousands of
large animals was unnatural, and virtually simultaneous. How
do we know it was simultaneous? Because, as we shall see, similar
vast cemeteries are found elsewhere, in which the predators and
the preyed upon died together, and there is no evidence of the
bones of any of the animals having been gnawed. The only difference
between these animal cemeteries in other parts of the world and
those in Siberia is that the former were not preserved by refrigeration,
and therefore appear rather as vast assemblages of bones. (177) In the Harvard Museum a slab six feet by ten feet
contains bones so thickly packed and in such confusion that there
is every evidence of violence in their compaction. In the Colorado
Museum of Natural History a similar geological exhibit is to
be seen, taken from an animal cemetery at Agate Springs, in which
it is estimated that the bones of about 9000 complete animals
are buried in one hill. One section of such a bone cemetery is
shown in Fig.2.
176. Nordenskiold, Baron N.A.E.,
Voyage of the Vega, vol.1, 1881, pp.322, 323.
177. Animal cemeteries: see more recently the New York World,
reporting from Alaska, June 1, 1930, and Associated Press,
April 16, 1949.
Part of an animal cemetery taken from a quarry at Agate Springs,
Nebraska, and now exhibited in the Denver Museum of Natural History.
It contains bones of thousands of animals, extending over a wide
area. Photo used courtesy of the Denver Museum of Natural History.
Howorth had this to say about these
animal cemeteries: (178)
obvious cause we can appeal to as occasionally producing mortality
on a wide scale among animals is a murrain or pestilence, but
what murrain or pestilence is so completely unbiased in its actions
as to sweep away all forms of terrestrial life, even the very
carriers of it � the rodents � including the fowls of
the air, the beasts of the field, elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses,
frogs, mice, bison and snakes, landsnails, and every conceivable
form of life, and this not in one corner only but, as far as
we know, over the whole of the two great continents irrespective
of latitude or longitude.
of the bones occurring in great caches or deposits in which various
species are mixed pell-mell is very important, and it
is a fact undenied by geologists that whenever we find such a
locality in which animals have suffered together in a violent
and instantaneous destruction, the bones are invariably mixed
and, as it were, "deposited" in a manner which could
hardly be explained otherwise than by postulating the action
of great tidal waves
178. Howorth, Sir Henry, Thc
Mammoth and thc Flood: Uniformity and Geology, London, p.180.
and all before them, depositing them far inland with no respect
Howorth continued later:
die occasionally (in large numbers) from natural causes, different
species do not come together to die, nor does the lion come to
take his last sleep with the lamb! The fact of finding masses
of animal remains.of mixed species all showing the same state
of preservation, not only points to a more or less contemporary
death, but is quite fatal to the theory that they ended their
days peacefully and by purely natural means.
If they had
been exposed to the air, and to the severe transition between
mid-winter and mid-summer, which characterizes Arctic latitudes,
the mammoths would have decayed rapidly. But their state of preservation
proves that they were covered over and protected ever since.
This renowned but neglected authority
almost certain in my opinion that a very great cataclysm or catastrophe
occurred by which the mammoth and his companions were overwhelmed
over a very large part of the earth's surface. And that the same
catastrophe was accompanied by a very great and sudden change
of climate in Siberia, by which the animals which had previously
lived in fairly temperate conditions were frozen . . . and were
never once thawed until the day of their discovery. No other
theory will explain the perfect preservation of these great elephants.
From the Antarctic also there is evidence,
according to geologists of the Byrd Expedition, (180) of similarly different climatic conditions. Great
coal fields, evidence of luxuriant growth, were discovered at
the head of Thorne Glacier in the Queen Maude Range within 200
miles of the South Pole. Such conditions so near to that frightful
wilderness of ice and snow, which is so much more terrible than
the North Pole in its coldness and barrenness, is remarkable
witness of a previous world which must have been a very different
one. So numerous are the fossils there that the explorers actually
had difficulty making a selection. Today life in these regions
is conspicuously absent.
Evan Hopkins remarked that the
fossil plants of north Greenland proved that the land has been
favoured with a climate at least 30º F, warmer than at present.
(181) He pointed out also that among the animals entombed
in the deposits in Siberia besides the mammoths are bears, hippos,
hyena, lions, tigers, and others which can only live and flourish
in or near the tropics. Moreover, the fossil forest at
180. Reported from Little America in the Toronto Telegram,
December 13, 1933.
181. Hopkins, Evan, "On Terrestrial Changes and the Probable
Ages of the Continents," Transactions of the Victoria
Institute, vol.2, 1867, p. 4, 8.
at a latitude of 70º is indicative of a temperature of at
least 30º F, higher than is now found at that parallel.
Similar conditions are likely to be found now at the 48º
parallel, a fact which shows a shift of climate with respect
to the equator.
has been said of land animals is equally true of fishes and even
of plants. Some years ago Philip Le Riche presented a paper before
the Victoria Institute in London in which he made this statement:
easily be shown that many of the strata contain the fossil remains
of fish which have been suddenly interred before putrefaction
had acted upon their fleshy bodies, for their bodies are preserved
as they were during life. And this remarkable state of preservation
of fish life is also found in the flora. For plants as fine as
maidenhair ferns are found embedded in the strata with even their
venules intact, showing that they must have been buried very
shortly after their deposition in the sediment, otherwise they
would have become converted into leaf mold and indistinguishable,
whereas a botanist can place the fossil plant in its proper order
of plant life.
The suddenness of this destruction
is further strikingly borne out by the fossil cuttlefish of Lyme
Regis that were killed and entombed with such inconceivable rapidity
that they still retain the dark fluid with which their ink bags
are filled when alive. (183) But these animals when disturbed
release this protective device within a matter of seconds. Speaking
of fish, Howorth even recorded a whale which was found entombed
with the elephants, a discovery which Pallas confirmed �
mentioning also buffalo in situ with the heads of large
spite of the fact that many of these authorities would now be
considered quite out of date, so that their interpretations would
almost certainly be rejected, the evidence itself remains undeniable;
and it is difficult to explain it satisfactorily in any other
way. In concluding this brief survey, and referring this time
to accumulations of bones which were washed pell-mell into fissures
and clefts in the rocks, one can reflect upon the words of the
venerable Joseph Prestwich, affectionately styled the Father
of the Geological Society. After speaking of such animal cemeteries
and pointing out how the bones of carnivores are mixed indiscriminately
with those of their natural prey, the bodies seeming to have
been torn apart with violence, he summed the situation up by
182. Le Riche, Philip, "Scientific
Proofs of the Universal Deluge," Transactions of the
Victoria Institute, vol.61, 1929, p.86.
183. Cuttlefish of Lyme Regis: see Byron C. Nelson, The Deluge
Story in Stone, Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1931, p. 113.
184. Prestwich, Joseph, in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological
Society, vol.48, 1912, p.326.
bones cannot be of animals which fell into these fissures (where
they are found in such profusion), for no skeleton is complete.
They cannot have been brought by beasts of prey, for none are
gnawed. They were not brought by streams (i.e., spring floods),
for none are rolled. The bones could not have laid exposed for
long, for none are weathered. They were not covered up normally,
for they were broken by the violence of their deposition together
with the associated rocks. . . .
of these fissure deposits in so many places . . . seems to confirm
the belief that the rubble drift itself did not owe its origin
to normal causes, but to something catastrophic in the nature
of earth movements.
Such, then, is the kind of evidence
which is to be found all over the world of the sudden death of
an enormous number of animals of very recent and modern times.
Some of these creatures died in latitudes that were almost at
once plunged into an Ice Age which preserved them by freezing.
Some of them died in more temperate zones and were accumulated
by the action of torrents of water sweeping hither and yon as
the earth reeled, before the waters had been sufficiently gathered
together in one place to expose the dry land. And, finally, some
were accumulated and rammed together forcibly and indiscriminately
into clefts in the rocks which served to sieve them out of the
suddenness of the event is everywhere attested, in the Arctic
by the extraordinary state of preservation of mammoths and other
creatures, and in the more temperate zones by the very fact that
predators and preyed upon came to a sudden end together. Even
within the waters, the movements of silt and water-washed materials
were sometimes so sudden and overwhelming that fishes were trapped
before they had the few seconds necessary to react in a characteristic
defensive way. Some bivalved forms, in fact, were overwhelmed
so rapidly that they did not have time to close.
we may conclude, I think, that the catastrophe which was worldwide
profoundly affected world climate. There are some who believe
that the Ice Age is bound up with the sudden subsidence of the
waters . They argue that the effect of this subsidence was greatly
to increase the exposed land area. I am not competent to assess
the mechanics of this hypothesis, but there is little doubt that
what has been observed was related to the coming of the great
cold which brought ice down over half of the northern hemisphere
and introduced the world to an Ice Age from which we really have
not yet altogether recovered. We may say that the ice caps have
merely retreated far enough to allow most of us to ignore them.
And the event was recent indeed. The present is, geologically
of the Pleistocene. It is as Shull has observed: (185)
points in geological history has there been extermination comparable
to that of mammals in the time just preceding the recent. In
part this may be due to repeated glaciation, but most of it is
unexplained. Only the tropical regions, notably Africa, escaped
this great diminution of mammals, and the Pleistocene mammals
of that continent were essentially the same as today.
A study of the rocks indicates that
the same may be said largely of Australia. The pattern of fossil
marsupials has continued on in that continent and is still with
us. It is probably true, as Baker pointed out, that not a few
species of animals � indeed, large areas of living things
� might very well have survived the catastrophe. But those
which perished irretrievably as species had to be recreated.
(186) Those species which had not perished altogether began
once more to multiply. Possibly this is why in Genesis 1 God
said in some cases, "Let the earth bring forth. . . ,"
while in other cases Scripture says, "So God created. .
. ," etc. Not everything had to be re-created; and as for
plant life, the earth perhaps did indeed bring forth seed which
was in itself � in the earth (Genesis 1:11).
the tilting of the earth' s axis by as much as 40º or more
at the time of the last great convulsion of nature may have been
partially responsible for the fact that in the New World, for
example, the great ice sheet reached down over New York State.
Possibly we shall yet discover what upset the earth's equilibrium
at the time to cause this tilt. When � and if � this
axis of rotation becomes completely vertical again, the ice caps
will presumably disappear entirely and the whole earth could
enjoy a temperate climate. The recovery at present is only partial
(23º), so that although the ice retreats annually, we still
have polar caps with us. If we assume that the axis of rotation
of the world that then was, was normal to the earth's plane of
rotation around the sun, then that world would have enjoyed a
much more temperate climate over its whole surface. This could
have important theoretical implications, for as H. Hamshaw Thomas
of Cambridge, in a letter to Nature, pointed out: (187)
that changes have occurred during the past in the position of
the earth's axis of rotation. . . is of great interest to all
students of fossil plants.
It has long
been clear that the geological evidence of former vegetation
shows that the lands around the Arctic Sea bore an ample covering
185. Shull A. F., Evolution,
McGraw-Hill, New York, 1963, p.65.
186 Baker, Howard B., The Atlantic Rift and Its Meaning,
published privately, 1932, with numerous illustrations and
extensive bibliography, pp.181-183 (obtainable only from Library
187. Thomas, Hamshaw, Letter to the Editor, Nature, August
20, 1955, p 349.
during a long
period, probably from Devonian to Tertiary times. This vegetation
included many large trees and was very different from the scanty
flora of these regions living today.
And so the Old World was suddenly
brought to an end just when it had seemed ready to receive man
as its paramount chief. But God had formed it and given it its
appointments and established its natural order; and He had not
created all this in vain (Isaiah 45:18). He had intended it in
the first place as a habitation for man, and although His intention
had been forestalled by some counter-agency, that intention stood
firm: and so the process of reconstitution was once again undertaken
by the Lord to put everything ready for the introduction of man,
for whom it had all been planned.
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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man finds himself in a world in which there are strange contradictions.
Everywhere to the eye of faith there is evidence of plan and
purpose -- such evidence, in fact, that even the unbelieving
find it hard not to recognize it. At the same time, equally ubiquitous,
is the evidence of catastrophe and judgment, as though some contrary
planner had been at work seeking to thwart the Creator's design,
and more particularly and more dramatically just when man's coming
was drawing near.
it is time to reassess the geological evidence in the light of
these two opposing forces, one for good and one for evil.